this day in crime history: august 11, 1965

WattsRiot

On this date in 1965, a minor scuffle following a traffic stop in Los Angeles would escalate into what would become known as the Watts riots. The unrest would continue until August 17th. When it was all over, 34 people were killed, over 1000 injured, and 3400 arrested. Almost a thousand buildings, mostly businesses, were damaged or destroyed. Damage was estimated to be about $40 million.

Further reading:

Watts Rebellion (Los Angeles, 1965)

Wikipedia – Watts Riots

this day in crime history: august 9, 1969

On this date in 1969, members of Charles Manson’s “family” murdered five people at the Los Angeles home of actress Sharon Tate.  The victims included Tate (who was eight months pregnant), hair stylist Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, Polish actor/writer Wojciech Frykowski, and recent high school graduate Steven Parent.  Three of the victims were friends of Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski.  Polanski was in Europe filming a movie at the time of the murders.  The fifth victim, Steven Parent, had the misfortune of visiting the home’s caretaker (who was staying in an adjacent cottage) on the night of the murder.  He was intercepted by the Mansonites as he was leaving the property.

The victims were all shot and/or stabbed by Manson followers Charles “Tex” Watson, Susan Watkins, and Patricia Krenwinkle while Linda Kasabian stood watch.  After the murders, Atkins wrote “pig” on the front door of the house using Sharon Tate’s blood.

The following night, the four killers, along with two other Manson followers, Leslie Van Houten and Steve “Clem” Grogan, would murder Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.  Manson would actually accompany the murderers to the scene this time, but left the dirty work to his minions.

When police finally caught up to Manson and his crew, they convinced Linda Kasabian, who hadn’t actually committed any of the murders, to testify against the other members of the family.  All of the defendants were ultimately convicted.  They are all currently incarcerated in California, except for Grogan, who was paroled in 1985, and Atkins, who died in prison in 2009. Linda Kasabian returned to her native New Hampshire after the trial.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Charles Manson and the Manson Family

Find-a-Death – The Death of Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders

this day in crime history: june 20, 1947

On this date in 1947, Bugsy Siegel got whacked. Iced. Taken out. Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel — who hated that nickname, by the way — was shot while sitting next to a window in the Beverly Hills house he shared with girlfriend Virginia Hill. According to his death certificate, the cause of death was “cerebral hemmorage” (apparently spelling was not a high priority at the L.A. County Registrar’s Office) due to “gunshots of the head” (neither was grammar, I guess). One shot hit Siegel right near his eye. If he saw it coming, he didn’t see it for long.

The murder was never solved, but theories abound. Who was behind it? Was it Meyer Lansky? Lucky Luciano? Some investors who were less than happy about the profitability of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino? Author Warren Hull has a theory about the identity of the trigger man. Check out this interview with Hull.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Bugsy Siegel

Wikipedia – Bugsy Siegel

Family Secret, by Warren Robert Hull

this day in crime history: june 16, 1999

On this date in 1999, middle class St. Paul, MN mom Sara Jane Olson was arrested after being profiled on America’s Most Wanted. As it turns out, the socially active mother of three had a secret identity. In a prior life, she was Kathleen Ann Soliah, a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army terrorist group.

Soliah had been in hiding since 1976, when she was indicted for her role in planting pipe bombs that were targeted at police officers in Los Angeles.

Olson eventually pleaded guilty to the explosives charges and to her role in a robbery that resulted in the death of a woman. She was sentenced to 14 years in prison, but her sentence was eventually reduced by a judge.

In 2008, Olson was erroneously released from prison due to a miscalculation by prison officials. She was rearrested and returned to prison. She was paroled in March of 2009 and was allowed to return to Minnesota to serve out her sentence.

Further reading:

CNN – ’70s radical Sara Jane Olson released from prison

Wikipedia – Sara Jane Olson

this day in crime history: june 5, 1968

RFK

On this date in 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, was shot in Los Angeles, CA.

It was just after midnight when Kennedy finished addressing supporters at the Ambassador Hotel’s Embassy Room ballroom. His advisers decided it would be best to leave the hotel through the kitchen, so as to avoid reporters who were pushing for an impromptu press conference.

As the entourage moved through the kitchen, they were confronted by 24 year old Sirhan Sirhan, an immigrant with Jordanian citizenship. A Christian of Palestinian descent, Sirhan was angered by Kennedy’s support of Israel. He  produced a .22 caliber pistol and shot Kennedy repeatedly. Kennedy fell to the floor as his security detail, consisting of former FBI agent William Barry, decathlete Rafer Johnson, and pro-footballer Roosevelt Greer, wrestled Sirhan to the ground and subdued him. The gun discharged several times during the struggle and five people were injured. After being subdued, Sirhan managed to break loose and grab the gun again. He attempted to shoot it, but he had already used up all his ammo.

Senator Kennedy was taken to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan for emergency surgery, but the prognosis was not good. At 2 AM the following morning, a spokesman announced that Kennedy had died.

Sirhan Sirhan was tried by the State of California for murder. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the gas chamber. His sentence was commuted to life by a California court in accordance with the People v. Anderson decision. He is currently incarcerated at California’s Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego and has been denied parole over a dozen times.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – The Murder of Robert Kennedy

About.com – Robert Kennedy Assassination

Wikipedia – Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

this day in crime history: may 17, 1974


On this date in 1974, six members of the Symbionese Liberation Army were cornered by police in a house in Los Angeles. The police announced their presence via bullhorn. An older man and a small child walked out of the house. The man told police that no one else was inside. After several attempts to communicate with the remaining occupants, police fired tear gas into the building. SLA members responded with automatic weapons fire. In the ensuing battle, the building caught fire. All six SLA members, the group’s leader, Donald “Cinque” Defreeze, Nancy Ling Perry, Angela Atwood, Willie Wolfe, Patricia Soltysik and Camilla Hall, were killed in the shootout.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Patty Hearst Kidnapping

CNN.com – Patty Hearst Profile

Wikipedia – Symbionese Liberation Army

this day in crime history: february 28, 1997


On this date in 1997, LAPD officers patrolling North Hollywood saw two heavily armed masked men enter the Bank of America Branch on Laurel Canyon Blvd. Several minutes later the men left the bank with over $300,000 in cash. By that time, several other police units had arrived on the scene to provide backup. The robbers, Larry Phillips (above left) and Emil Matasareanu (above right) were ready for a confrontation with police; they were each carrying multiple weapons, had thousands of rounds of ammunition, and had taken phenobarbital prior to the robbery to calm their nerves. To make matters worse, they were both wearing body armor.

The robbers opened fire on the officers. In the ensuing gun battle, which lasted over 40 minutes, officers fired over 600 rounds, the robbers over 1000. Over-matched by the robbers’ superior firepower, officers went to a local gun store to procure better weapons.

The shootout ended with the death of both suspects. Ten officers and seven civilians were injured.

You can see pictures from my 2008 trip to the scene here.

Here’s a video about the robbery:

Further reading:

Wikipedia – North Hollywood shootout